ST. PETERSBURG — Kevin Kiermaier has always been somewhat of a special case, a key player for the Rays whose value was based on the impact he had in the field rather than the traditional measure of what he did at the plate.
“We’ve seen guys that do things that prevent runs,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Maybe don’t knock in as many but they prevent them. KK is at the top of the game as far as that’s concerned.”
But — under the flashing warning sign of small sample size — Kiermaier in his first two months with the Blue Jays, and at age 33, has been starring as an all-around player, including career-best offensive numbers this deep into a season; he entered play Tuesday hitting .310 with an .845 OPS.
Surgery to repair the left hip that ended his 2022 season with Tampa Bay last July after slowing him for several previous years and the addition of contact lenses to improve his vision have definitely been key factors in his increased production.
But there is also a motivating factor after the Rays declined Kiermaier’s $13 million option for this season, deciding to go with Jose Siri as their centerfielder, leaving Kiermaier to sign a one-year $9 million deal with Toronto (plus a $2.5 million buyout from Tampa Bay).
“I want to prove to myself and to a lot of other people out there that I’ve got a lot of baseball left in me,” Kiermaier said. “I have a good healthy body and better eyes. I know I had some seasons (with the Rays) that I would love to have back for sure. But it is what it is. I’ve learned from it. I just want to play this game the way I remember playing, and that all starts with a healthy body and me going around and moving out there the way I’m capable of.
“But I told (the Rays) last year when they didn’t sign me, I said, ‘I’ll make you guys miss me next year. Whether you admit it or not, I’m going to make you guys miss me.’ So who knows if they do or not; they’re doing just fine without me, so … "
If Kiermaier can continue producing the way he has, he will distinguish himself in another way — the rare name player the Rays trade or let go who does better elsewhere.
As much as the Rays are known for finding and bringing in players overlooked or discarded by other teams and recognizing and maximizing their talent, they also have a knack — if not a refined algorithm and complex data analysis system — for knowing when to say goodbye, no matter how hard the breakup may seem.
Kiermaier, per the all-encompassing WAR metric calculated by baseball-reference.com, is the fourth-best player in Tampa Bay franchise history at 31.7, averaging roughly 3.3 per season. In his first two months with the Jays, he has already compiled a 2.3 WAR.
Of the others in the top 10 of best career WAR as Rays — a stat that is compiled cumulatively, so longevity matters, and thus age is a factor — none really was more successful after he left.
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Here is a look at the top 10, and how they did with the Rays and after them:
Evan Longoria, 3B
With Rays: 10 seasons (2008-17), 51.2 WAR (8.2 peak in 2010, 5.1 average), 3 All-Star teams, 3 Gold Gloves, Silver Slugger, 6 top-20 MVP finishes, traded at age 32
With Giants, Diamondbacks: 5-plus seasons (2018-23), 7.1 WAR (1.8 peak in 2021, 1.2 average)
Carl Crawford, OF
With Rays: 9 seasons (2002-10), 35.6 WAR (7.9 peak in 2020, 4.0 average), 4 All-Star teams, Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, left as free agent at age 29
With Red Sox, Dodgers: 5-plus seasons (2011-16), 3.5 WAR (2.4 peak in 2014, 0.6 average)
Ben Zobrist, INF/OF
With Rays: Parts of 9 seasons (2006-14), 35.3 WAR (AL best 8.6 peak in 2009, 3.9 average), 2 All-Star teams, 3 top-20 MVP finishes, traded at age 33
With A’s, Royals, Cubs: 5 seasons (2015-19), 9.1 WAR (3.5 peak in 2018, 1.8 average), 1 All-Star team
Kevin Kiermaier, OF
With Rays: Parts of 9 seasons* (2014-22), 31.7 WAR (7.1 peak in 2015, 3.5 average), 3 Gold Gloves, left as free agent at age 32
With Jays: TBD
*Played one game with Rays in 2013
David Price, LHP
With Rays: Parts of 7 seasons (2008-14), 21.3 WAR, (6.6 peak in 2012, 3.3 average), 4 All-Star teams, 1 Cy Young Award and 1 second-place finish, traded at age 28
With Tigers, Jays, Red Sox, Dodgers: 7-plus seasons (2014-19, 2021-22), 19.1 WAR (6.3 peak in 2015, 2.7 average), 1 All-Star team, 1 second-place Cy Young finish
James Shields, RHP
With Rays: 7 seasons (2006-12), 19.7 WAR (5.8 peak in 2011, 2.8 average), 1 All-Star team, 1 third-place Cy Young finish, traded at age 30.
With Royals, Padres, White Sox: 6 seasons (2013-18), 10.7 WAR (4.7 peak in 2013, 1.8 average)
Carlos Peña, 1B
With Rays: 5 seasons (2007-10, 2012), 18.1 WAR (7.2 peak in 2007, 3.6 average), 1 All-Star team, Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, 2 top-10 MVP finishes, left as free agent at ages 32 and 34
With Cubs, Astros, Royals, Rangers: Parts of 3 seasons (2011, 2013-15), 1.9 WAR (2.6 peak, 0.8 average)
Scott Kazmir, LHP
With Rays: 5-plus seasons (2004-09), 16.5 WAR (5.8 peak in 2007, 3.0 average), 2 All-Star teams, traded at age 25
With Angels, Indians, A’s, Astros, Dodgers*: 6-plus seasons (2009-11, 2013-16), 6.5 WAR (3.1 peak in 2015, 1.0 average), 1 All-Star team
*Pitched briefly for Giants in 2021
BJ Upton, OF
With Rays: Parts of 8 seasons (2004, 2006-12), 15.6 WAR (4.4 peak in 2007, 2.2 average), left as free agent at age 28
With Braves, Padres, Jays: 4 seasons (2013-16), 1.2 WAR (1.5 peak in 2015, 0.3 average)
Julio Lugo, SS
With Rays: Parts of 4 seasons (2003-06), 13.5 WAR (4.4 peak in 2005, 3.9 average), traded at age 30
With Dodgers, Red Sox, Cardinals, O’s, Braves: Parts of 6 seasons (2006-11), -1.7 WAR (0.7 peak in 2007, -0.4 average)
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